Businesses trying to figure out when and how - or if - to bring workers back into offices

Posted April 7, 2021 8:23 p.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2021 11:13 a.m. EDT

— As more people across North Carolina get vaccinated against coronavirus, business owners and office managers are planning for their post-pandemic workplaces.

"There is no playbook for this," said Margaret Chadwick, the head of human resources for Durham-based Cree. "The best thing is to keep people safe and keep the business running."

That balance shifts as the pandemic moves from the present and future into the past. In the coming months, Chadwick and other personnel executives need to recalibrate from having most staff work remotely to how and when – of even if – to have employees back in the office.

"We’ve just launched a campaign called Work Where It Works," Chadwick said, noting Cree, which makes semiconductor products, has about half of its staff working from home, with many others working in the factory on production lines.

Before Cree starts phasing workers back into the office in the fall, she said, they should talk with their mangers to craft a work routine for the long term.

"Really, [we want] what works for you from a work style perspective," she said. "Maybe sometimes you’ve learned that you need a time to be in the office and be dedicated, but sometimes it’s really better for you to work from home.

Months of remote working have shown Cree and other corporations that employees don't slack off at home, Chadwick said. So, they should be given the option to continue handling their workload in the environment that works best to get the job done, she said.

"It could mean I will come in five days a week just like normal. It could mean I’ll only come in periodically for special meetings or events that are going on, or [it could be] anything in between," she said. "We’ve really, really introduced a great deal of flexibility."

Beyond schedules, the offices themselves will likely change because of the pandemic, said Cathy Hofknecht, managing partner for Neu Concepts, which helps design work spaces and engaging environments for customers.

"[You'll see] visual cues to help people stay spaced out," Hofknecht said. "I think we’ve all grown accustomed to it when we go into a store and we see the little circles. We have a greater tendency to stay spaced apart in the stores that have those little circles versus a store that does not."

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